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Review: Fiction: Catching the Sun by Tony Parsons

Tony Parsons, author of numerous bestsellers beginning with Man and Boy, thinks Britain is broken. So did his dad. In fact, the family was all set to leave for Australia in the 1950s, but pulled out at the last minute.

There is a bitterness about Britain running through Parsons's latest novel. It could be read alongside Martin Amis's Lionel Asbo: State of England as a lament for the loss of national identity.

The Finn family, which decides to move to Phuket in Thailand, has had enough of the old country.

Tom Finn is a builder. During a burglary at his house, he defends his wife and two children, and becomes what the tabloids call a "have-a-go hero".

He is prosecuted, loses his business and decides to up sticks to the Far East, where the mysterious Mr Farren gives him a job as a driver.

Parsons has spent a lot of time on Phuket. More than two million tourists visit the island every year, but very few travel to the north of the island, where Parsons sets his story.

He rather unsubtly contrasts the unspoilt and simple Thai people with the grasping, venial Brits who come to Thailand for sun and sex.

Parsons writes well about the island and the beautiful Hat Nai Yang beach where the Finn family settles. But there is trouble in paradise. Farren's business, it turns out, is a shady one involving dodgy property investments. The place is raided, and Tom is held briefly in one of the island's notorious jails.

Upon his release, he is caught up in the 2004 tsunami, which left almost 10,000 dead in Thailand alone. Northern Phuket, however, escaped relatively mildly, and Parsons does not take full advantage of the dramatic opportunities available here.

In his previous books, Parsons has revealed a sentimentality about family, working-class values and the redemptive power of children.

The setting may have changed, but the values have remained the same.

Tom is a working-class hero just trying to do the right thing by his family. His wife is worshipped from below. His kids are wise beyond their years.

Sub-plots -- the rescue of a badly treated gibbon, a love story involving a tabloid hack gone native, the rebuilding of a local restaurant -- are handled well, and minor characters are often more fully drawn than the main ones.

How much you enjoy Catching the Sun depends on how much of the sentimentality you can take. I imagine it goes well with a cocktail and umbrella.

David Robbins

Indo Review